French director Flore Vasseur has opened up about her journey from high-flying entrepreneur in New York City to filmmaker whose feature debut “Bigger Than Us,” co-produced with Marion Cotillard, premiered at Cannes’ new sidebar dedicated to climate change.
It all started when the then 24-year old Vasseur witnessed the 9/11 attacks from her office in NYC.
“It was one of those life-changing moments, it tears away everything you believe, everything that you are. I had this intuition that there was a tangible reason why we were receiving these bombs and that I was contributing to this with my lifestyle, my ideas, my values. What I felt was not fear, but shame.”
Her quest to find answers took her to Afghanistan on a contract with the World Bank. “I was super happy, I thought I was going to make a change, but when I got there I realized that all the money sent to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country was going straight back into the pockets of people like me.”
Speaking with disconcerting humility and sincerity at Cannes Doc Day, Vasseur explains that her feeling of shame was compounded by this experience which confirmed her desire to turn to journalism.
She wrote four books, including award-winning investigative journalism best-sellers on trading, finance, corruption and social justice. Her work took her to Edward Snowden, whom she calls “the most important of all whistle-blowers,” and with whom she made a documentary. But, still, she felt her work didn’t have a true impact. Her calls to action were falling on deaf ears. Until she met young environmental activists Isabel and Melati Wijsen.
“These girls were mesmerizing, awesome, they had this ingenuity, this passion, this drive, when I met them I realized there is something in kids that instills change. It was in 2016, before the Greta phenomenon. The protagonists you see in my doc are veterans of their own art, they started at the age of 12.”
Melati Wijsen became the film’s ambassador, traveling the world to record the stories of young activists.
“I just want kids to have new role models,” says Vasseur. “To be able to connect to stories where they feel this is for them, not adults preaching, but real concrete examples of people like them doing big or small things, and changing lives, wherever they are. This trend of young people taking action, and not asking for the permission, is everywhere.”
A chance meeting with Marion Cotillard at a social activism event brought Vasseur the backing she needed to make the film come to life.
“Marion saved my life. I was pushing this film so hard, I almost went bankrupt. It took me a while, but the person who believed I could do this was Marion. We immediately connected. I elevator pitched her and it worked,” she says with a smile. “She opened all the doors, the film would never have been the same without her,” says Vasseur.
Co-produced with Cotillard and Denis Carot (“Home”, “Douce France”), “Bigger Than Us” is set to open in French theaters on Sept. 22.